Lories are notorious for their ebullience and sheer joie de vivre and Rainbow is unsurpassed in this respect. His gregarious nature embraces everything within his range as a source of fun or curiosity, be it animate or inanimate. Even strangers are greeted with an enthusiastic hop to their shoulder, a whisper of “Hi Sweetheart” in their ear, and a request for kisses and a sample of whatever they might be eating or drinking at the time. Rainbow has always been a fine emissary for Rainbow Lories, the Edward's variety. (There are 21 subspecies of Rainbow Lories).

So one day several years ago when we saw him sitting alone quietly, we knew something was drastically wrong. After a rush to our avian veterinarian and cultures and blood tests that revealed nothing wrong, we insisted on an x-ray. The previous year we had lost a red lory who exhibited similar symptoms and had been extensively treated with antibiotics. After seeing no results, we finally had him x-rayed and discovered five tiny pieces of metal in his gizzard. Too much time had elapsed before we discovered the real source of the problem and we lost him before we could even begin the chelation treatment.

In order to avoid the same mistake with Rainbow, we insisted on an x-ray as soon as cultures and blood tests revealed nothing of significance. To our dismay, his entire gizzard fluoresced! He had been dining on tiny particles of metal! At the advice of our veterinarian, we began tube-feeding him psyllium, alternating with emulsified peanut butter, as well as administering shots of EDTA. We checked all of his droppings with a magnet, and within two weeks had recovered forty-five tiny, grain-of-sand-sized pieces of ferrous metal. He began to resume his normal, exuberant behavior again and we assumed (big mistake) that all was well.

Since Rainbow had been flying in our large outdoor free-flight enclosure, we assumed (another major error) that he most likely had been picking up these tiny metallic pieces from the ground. We never could quite figure out how they got there, but that was the only possibility we could imagine, since the red lory had been in the same area.

By this time, though, Rainbow was confined to the house, albeit in free flight. About a month later, we noticed his ability to fly was diminishing and somehow he hurt his right leg. We again rushed him to the veterinarian and the ensuing x-ray revealed not only a broken leg, but again a gizzard half full of metal! Could he have been picking up metal particles in the house?

The psyllium and peanut butter tubings were resumed along with the EDTA and the following x-ray revealed only three metal particles. We got out seven pieces! The next x-ray only showed one piece, but we continued retrieving particles in his droppings. By this time, with his leg in a cast and the toss of ability to fly, he was confined to his cage when he wasn't on my shoulder. Now our dilemma as to the metal source intensified until the only thing left to investigate was his food. We opened a new box of lory formula and stuck in our magnet. Four pieces of metal filings jumped to the magnet from within the top inch of the contents. We were stunned! Since we had recently purchased five more boxes of this food, we had them x-­rayed before being opened to eliminate any possible question of contamination after being opened. Every unopened box revealed metal filings! We had inadvertently been feeding our baby metal particles!

We immediately reported this to the manufacturer, who, on testing, subsequently sent us a letter confirming that they, too, had found metal filings in the food and admitted that their metal detector was faulty. They recalled those particular lot numbers and reimbursed us for the red lory we had lost, for Rainbow who was still suffering the effects of this, and for our associated veterinary bills. They, at least, responded in a responsible manner and vowed to correct the problem.

Rainbow continued to show signs of toxicity, in spite of the chelation, with complete loss of his ability to fly, dermatitis with subsequent loss of feathers, general lethargy and an arthritic condition in one leg, all of which can be symptoms of heavy metal toxicity. X-rays showed joint changes in one knee plus one stubborn piece of metal that didn't want to dislodge. (Many times that which has been assumed to be arthritis in people has turned out to be heavy metal toxicity). The broken leg was also a symptom of this toxicity, as heavy metals can interfere with calcium metabolism and lead to brittle bones.

By this time we had, of course, changed formulas and checked with a magnet every powdered product we fed any of our birds. We were shocked to find metal particles in many of the powdered foods we tested, including powdered greens and other “people” food from the health food store. The particles varied from one to fifteen pieces per container, so they are not found in every scoop tested nor can they be visibly detected by looking at the powder.

On researching this phenomenon, we discovered that the metal comes from the grinding process, the result of metal grinding against metal and particularly when the blades are out of alignment. (Notice how knife and blender blades become dull. Have you ever wondered where this metal goes or why metal filings appear in the transmission pan under your car?) Savvy companies have installed metal detectors to remove this residue before it reaches the consumer. We all, however, are at the mercy of the quality of their metal detectors and even whether or not they use them at all.

We had Rainbow tested for lead and zinc toxicity, which are the only metals they generally test for, and these did not prove to be the problem. We learned that steel is made up of about ten alloys each of which can have varying effects on different individuals. However, one of these alloys is nickel which can be highly toxic. Is it possible that this toxicity goes undetected in other birds whose symptoms elude diagnosis?

We have also learned that some manufacturers are now using stainless steel blades in their grinding process and they, unfortunately, can be non-ferrous and thus not be detected by a magnet. X-rays would be the only way to detect these filings, provided the particles were large enough. The advantage here is that stainless steel would be less likely to cause toxicity.

Of course, not all birds respond in the same way to these filings. Some seem to be able to pass them through the system quickly and without harm, while those who tend to accumulate these particles may display an acute response (such as seizures or death) or chronic subclinical symptoms that elude diagnosis. These filings are so tiny, they probably would not be detected in a necropsy unless one was specifically looking for them or an x-ray was performed.

We were determined not to let Rainbow die, and after nearly nine months of various forms of chelation, numerous x-rays, much nutritional support, and reams of love, cuddling, and attention, we finally dislodged the remaining piece of metal and Rainbow began to recover rapidly. His feathers began to return and his arthritic leg began to improve. Even now, after nearly three years, however, he still has not regained his ability to fly and still shows signs of itching, so he has not completely overcome the effects of the metal toxicity, although he has regained his original exuberance and enthusiasm for life.

The magnet we used is called a pick-up tool and can be purchased at Sears or Home Depot for about ten dollars. It is chrome plated, which makes it easier to detect the metal particles. After each time we test a powdered product, we wipe everything that sticks to the magnet onto a white napkin and then pass the magnet over the residue. If a ferrous metal particle is present, it will jump as far as three-eighths of an inch to the magnet.

Pellets are difficult to test this way, as the particles are too small to respond from inside the pellet. We had fifteen different kinds of pellets x-rayed and metal filings were found in almost every one. The powder left in the bottom of the bag can be tested with the magnet, however. One pellet company, when confronted with this evidence, responded that they place these filings there as mineral supplements. If this were the case, why are there only from one to fifteen particles per container? And why do many companies install a powerful magnet at the expelling auger or spout to weed out these filings before they reach the consumer? The truth is that although the body can, to a degree, dissolve metals, most metals used in industry are alloys containing some elements that can be toxic. Minerals should be in chelated or colloidal form (generally having been absorbed through plants first) to be properly assimilated. Otherwise, we could just grind up our frying pans for iron or eat the bumpers off our cars for chromium!

For chelation we used calcium EDTA and later, Cupramine. Since these chelators bind with and remove essential minerals as well as heavy metals, we gave Rainbow additional mineral supplements to replace those lost in chelation. (We give our birds trace mineral supplements on a daily basis anyhow, as these are sadly lacking in most diets.) From the health food store, we used Porphyra-Zyme (from Biotics Research), chlorella, alpha lipoic acid, apple pectin, and sodium alginate, all of which are natural chelators. We also used magnesium malate, which is a specific for chelating aluminum, just in case. Dandelion extract and silymarin were used to help support the liver, which is always affected with any type of toxicity. (An enlarged liver did show up on Rainbow's earlier x-rays). Vitamin C was also used because, as well as assisting in chelation, it helps to protect the body from the radiation effects of so many x-rays. For the arthritic symptoms, we used a product called Inholtra, Natural Pain Formula, which helped with the joint malfunction.

So instead of finding the elusive pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, we found a pot of steel and, fortunately, we found it before the end of the Rainbow!